Establishing successful client relationships as a financial advisor relies on good communication skills not just to present information persuasively and with confidence, but also to establish client rapport that allows meaningful and engaging relationships to be built. For many who are new to the financial planning profession and who have no experience working with clients, participating in client meetings can trigger feelings of anxiety, especially for those who share the common fear of public speaking.
In our 116th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss different ways that new advisors can deal with their anxiety over working with clients – depending on the source of their anxiety, most may find that increasing their competence or building their confidence can be good ways to address their discomfort.
Given the tremendous breadth of knowledge that financial planning encompasses, many new advisors often fall prey to ‘imposter syndrome’ and build their confidence by gaining more subject matter expertise. For some, this means acquiring more credentials, while for others, it can mean devoting more time reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, and/or attending workshops or seminars. While gaining more subject matter expertise can help advisors develop their confidence in providing good advice to clients, some advisors may struggle more with the anxiety that comes with presenting themselves and speaking in front of others. One of the most effective ways to deal with this challenge is to practice public speaking, whether by engaging in more client meetings, preparing a script to rehearse out loud, or roleplaying potential client scenarios with a significant other, friend, colleague, or mentor playing the part of the client.
Though client-facing roles are a central part of financial planning, there are other roles for those seeking successful, satisfying careers in the profession that do not require working directly with clients. Newer financial planners may find it more appealing to take on a more behind-the-scenes role by focusing solely on plan preparation as a paraplanner, while others might find it more enjoyable to work in parts of the business indirectly involved in financial planning such as operations or marketing. More senior advisors might find opportunities for non-client-facing roles (usually in larger, more established firms) as a research or investment analyst, or as a subject-matter expert in an area that a firm specializes in (or may want to grow into).
The key point is that by reflecting on the root cause of their anxiety, advisors may find it easier to overcome their discomfort with client work by building up their subject matter expertise, preparing scripts to help them talk through commonly recurring (or challenging) meeting points, or roleplaying scenarios with friends or colleagues. And for advisors who don’t feel energized by working directly with clients, there are still opportunities for them to consider that don’t require much (if any) client interaction. Because ultimately, by improving their weak points, leveraging their areas of strength, and understanding the type of work that is most satisfying for them, advisors can identify the career path that will lead to the most happiness – and then decide what they need to do to create the most success for themselves on that chosen path!
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
- Kitces & Carl Ep 76: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome By Truly Building Confidence In Your Own Value
- #FASuccess Ep 014: Validating Your Advisor Value Proposition And Overcoming Imposter Syndrome With Carl Richards
- Justin Castelli
- What Is Unique Ability®? (Dan Sullivan / Strategic Coach Blog)
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Carl: Greetings, Michael Kitces.
Michael: Hello, Carl Richards. How are you?
Carl: I don't know how to express how good things are right now.
Michael: That's quite good.
Carl: It's so good.
Michael: That's good. That's wonderful. I'm happy for you, man.
Carl: Beautiful time of year. We've got thunderstorms rolling through in the afternoons. It's green. We can see the grass. The snow has melted. I feel...
Michael: We also get that a little bit part of the time of the year in Utah.
Carl: Yeah. So, it's been super good. Yeah.
Michael: Very cool. Yeah. We're getting similar here. I'm in the D.C. Metro area, which, unfortunately, they kind of built on a swamp, so the dead of summer is really not pleasant. There's a lot of mosquitoes, and a lot of humidity, and a lot of unpleasant heat. But late spring, early summer is really, really nice here. If you're going to visit D.C., come in the spring or the fall. The summer is miserable, and we just don't know how to handle the winter here, even though we only get an inch or 2 of snow once or twice a year. Come in the spring or the fall, it's beautiful here.
Carl: Amen. So, what's... I think we're continuing on a theme, aren't we, some sort of...
Understanding How Fear And Imposter Syndrome Affect Public Speaking [01:20]
Michael: No, I want to go a little bit of a different direction. Last episode, we were talking about just business fee metrics for clients, all that benchmarking math, I love. I actually wanted to go a little bit of a different direction today that... I'd had this conversation...it's conference season so been out talking to advisors, and had this lovely conversation with, just say, a young new advisor. We'll call him Jerry. Obviously, not his real name. So, Jerry's in a small, independent firm, associate advisor type of thing where, to his firm's credit, they're giving him opportunities to sit in on client meetings. They're giving him chances to start talking in client meetings. And, Jerry, learn to, let's practice how you deliver to clients. But as Jerry put it, they just...and then the moment comes, and then I get really anxious, and then I start kind of stumbling over my words. Then it doesn't go well, and it's not feeling very good. And I want to be an advisor. But the essence of it was just, how do you get comfortable in client meetings? And I recognize, for some advisors, "Bring me the clients, I want to talk." So, this is not for you if you're one of those...
Carl: Just relax.
Michael: But join us because you may hire one of those someday, or you may be even an advisor who has one of those in your office who maybe is struggling. So, look, if you are an advisor who has the gift of gab, more power to you. But I thought this was a powerful opportunity to talk about how to help advisors like Jerry. Because I realized there's this self-selection bias to reality. If Jerry came to the business 20 years ago, Jerry would already be gone from the business because Jerry would only have clients if he went and prospected for them and got them himself. And I'm pretty sure that particular part is not Jerry's gift and skill set on this earth. But now we live in this realm where advisors who are not necessarily having…bringing some natural gift of business development and building rapport with people and bringing in clients are getting opportunities at firms like this to get into the business, and to learn on a more steady pace and develop their careers professionally over time.
But it means we get moments like this that we basically never had in this business before. The rally was, Jerry would get sales training and if Jerry couldn't bring this vision of our clients, he would be gone in 6 to 12 months, and that would be that. This whole idea of, how do we support and help young people that maybe are not quite as naturally inclined but are trying to get there. They want to be advisors, they want to serve clients, they want to give advice, they want to do this, but they need a little more help. How do we help? Or from Jerry's end, for all the Jerry's who are listening, what can Jerry do to get more comfortable in client meetings?
Carl: Yeah, I think it'd be fun to talk about 2 things. One, how do we do that? How do we pra... And I think it comes down to practice, which we will break down and... But the second thing I want to get to, and I don't know if we want to start there, but the second thing I want to get to is, should Jerry become more comfortable? It's worth having a discussion about that. So, where do you want to start? What do you think would be most helpful?
Michael: I think let's start on the practice end. But then I really do want to come back to your very good question around...should he...should Jerry be pursuing this?
Carl: Should that be the goal? Yeah. So, my take on...let's assume that that's the right approach and Jerry, that's what is needed for this job and that's what the business owner, the senior advisor, who hired Jerry really, really, really needs, then I think it really does come down to, it feels to me...first of all, deep...well, yes, deep empathy. It's hard for me because that's never been one of my struggles, talking to people, but I know it is for most people. And so, I have deep empathy for it, or at least sympathy. And it feels to me...because I've read a lot about, how do you overcome your fear of public speaking? Well, it's exposure therapy, right?
Michael: You do a lot of public speaking...
Carl: Yeah. You do a little bit at first, and then you do a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more, you practice.
Michael: So, out of curiosity, do you have any fear of public speaking now or is it water off the back now?
Carl: I have a fear that I have learned to recognize... That show's up with... The people who aren't watching the video didn't get to see Mr. Burns...
Michael: Carl is holding up Mr. Burns from our episode many months ago. I don't remember which one it was, where we talked about the Mr. Burns analogy. You actually, literally have a Mr. Burns.
Carl: You know why? This is important. This is one of the best gifts I've ever received. Justin Castelli sent me Mr. Burns after hearing that story without any like prompting or anything.
Michael: Nice. You can look it up. This was our imposter syndrome episode.
Carl: So, I still have that fear almost every time, which I've learned to recognize as good. It's fuel for me now. I actually want to do things where Mr. Burns shows up... And that'll make much more sense after you go listen to the episode. But I don't have any other kind of... The kind of fear that I've heard people talk about, paralyzing fear and... I haven't experienced that in a while. But I have the, what am I going to say... These people are going to find out... Which I've learned to just call that imposter syndrome, I don't know if that's the same thing.
Michael: Yeah, but... I find something similar, and I think it's worth reflecting in this context. It may come back to part of the recommendations for Jerry. I find a similar phenomenon. I was... I do a lot of speaking now. I was not a public speaker by background. I've always been a raging introvert. Ironically, my college major was theater because I did lighting design and stage management. Never, ever, ever, ever on the stage. Once I had to run out there to catch a set piece that was falling because someone pulled the fly system the wrong way and dropped the thing off the hooks. So, I was never one to be out on the stage performing in front of anyone. Took a long, long time for me to get comfortable with it.
And even now, today, the stage fear, the anxiety in the minutes before getting started or going out on stage or wherever, it's still there. The heartbeat picks up, the anxiety picks up, the...that point where you could just sort of feel like your body is priming for the possibility that there may be a fight or flight moment here coming at some point. I don't get the paralyzing level, "Oh, my gosh, I can't get out there" but I do still feel that.
And similar to what you said, Carl, from your end, I've gotten to the point now where I can recognize when that's happening to me and just say, "Oh, okay, we're in that moment, getting ready to go out, kind of getting primed up here." Okay, I don't actually have to be anxious about this moderate flood of whatever neurochemicals are that apparently washing through right now, but I can pause, say, "Okay. So, it's that moment. All right. So, let me just make sure I'm harnessing this in the right general direction and then get out there and get started. And inevitably, about 30 seconds in, I'm, "Okay..." now I'm just back into the normal routine again. But in the theater moments, the moment before the curtain goes up, to me, they get...it's still there. Even after all these years, and I don't know what it is, 700, 800 events probably that I've done. It's still there. It doesn't...
Carl: Okay. Let's use you as an example then. How did you...when it was... What did we call...? We're calling him Jerry. So, it was actually a barrier for you...
How Acquiring Credentials And Gaining Subject Matter Expertise Can Build Confidence [10:33]
Michael: It was a barrier for me on clients early on, ironically, more than the speaking end... Well, honestly, how did I handle it? I got freaking more letters after my name than in front of my name until I felt like I could go into the meeting confident that I knew what I was talking about, wasn't going to screw anything up. That really was... The alphabet soup after the name, for me, that was the confidence builder I needed. And if you want to judge my level of fear in meeting with clients, judge it by how many letters I had to add after my name before I got to the point where I was...
Carl: That's fascinating.
Michael: ...to be there. So, let's just say I was digging up a pretty deep hole more after my name than in it now. It came from that place. For me, the script... It's a version of impostor syndrome. I don't really know that much. And I started right out of college. I'm young, I look young. I don't have any credibility. I don't actually know that much. I was a psych major, theater minor, liberal arts grad. The only way I was ever getting to the point where I felt like I could talk in client meetings and, A, just not feel like A, fraud, and B, feel like I could have confidence in what I was saying and actually sound like I had confidence in what I was saying was just...I had to actually get confidence, which for me was I needed to nerd out and get to the point where mentally I was there. Now I know that's not everybody, different people come to it from... Even those who have some of that fear come to it from a different place. So, I don't know that that's everybody's version of therapy through that moment, but that's very much where it came from, for me, in building it up. And indirectly is why...look, I'm still on the learning journey because I was just learning.
So, I'm continuously...I'm a voracious reader of books and content. I love plowing through that stuff. But I did stop adding letters after my name after a certain point, and part of it is because the firm told me I couldn't have any more lines on my business card. True story. But the secondary part was, eventually there was a point where, okay, I don't need any more letters to prove anything to anybody, I'm just doing this for my own personal learning journey. And that didn't stop because I'm a nerd and I like learning but more like, I don't need to do it in ways that produce letters anymore. Which for me was, then it shifted from a lot of classroom and kind of knowledge into a lot of books, and articles, and now podcasts and other realms where I can do the learning thing that I like to learn but got to the okay I don't feel like I have to prove anything to anybody anymore. But no joke, that was close to 10 years of my career. I was adding letters before really getting there. I guess it was about 7 years that I was really, really immersed in that.
Carl: That's really... Thanks for sharing that, by the way. That's super interesting. I did not know that. I did not know that that's where the letter thing came from. And it's still really resonant with you. You can feel, "Oh, that was really scary." You can relate it to…
Michael: The client end got... There is... Not to overanalyze it. There is a difference. Now the client ends, I'm through that, I feel fine now. I had a pretty brutal level of fear of just speaking up and talking in client meetings and then bumbling my words and all the rest that came through up. Well, I don't want to call it imposter syndrome, because imposter syndrome is, you really do know enough, you're just syndroming to think you're an imposter. I'm like, no, I really was...I really didn't know anything when I got...when I just started. The stage thing to me is a little bit different because that's just a, "Oh, my gosh, I'm going to stand in front of a fairly large crowd of people." It's a whole different fear mechanism for us, as human beings, than just the, "Do I know my stuff or are they going to think I'm a fraud?" thing. That, to me, still kicks in. That one, I just had to get comfortable with the feeling. The client fear went away, but it was... Well, I stopped the letters after 7 years. I probably got to the confidence level after 5 or 6.
How To Maintain Confidence Despite Not Readily Having Information [15:15]
Carl: Yeah. So, it turns out, for the second episode in a row, I have a model for this. It's a deeply tactical model. It involves calculations.
Michael: What's it called? Because I need to... I'm trademarking these online while we give them. So…
Carl: This is called the expertise matching model.
Michael: Okay. The expertise matching model.
Carl: So, a little bit of context, just because I think what you said about impostor syndrome is interesting, and there's all sorts of definitions of it. And I understand, I've done a ton of research on impostor syndrome. I understand the normal definition. I have built a series of archetypes of ways that imposter syndrome shows up. And one of them...the first...I think the first one is called never ever, right? That's like you're feeling imposter syndrome because you're an imposter. You actually don't know. You don't know. So, I think the expertise matching model is built for the never ever.
And so, we assume Jerry's, and there are people listening that are like Jerry, that are, "Jeez, I don't know." So, expertise matching is what I call it. And this would be really helpful for the person who hires new advisors and for the new advisor. So, if you can set people up so that the scenario you're putting them in equals...so you're only answering questions, you're only dealing with clients that are 10% below your level of expertise. And now, how do you measure that? I don't really know. That's beyond the model, we're working on that. We've got an AI model that we're building around this. It's fine. And that's a joke. So, 10% below...
And so, as your expertise moves up, you're moving up with clients. And if you feel yourself getting accidentally in over your head, you use what is... the technical term for it is the I Don't Know strategy. You can just say...and it turns out this is allowed, trademark, TM. I don't know. You're allowed to just say, "Mr. and Mrs. Client, that's a really good question. In fact, I'm not sure." And what I want to assure...absolutely promise Jerry and others like him is that people will respect that if it's done with confidence. If you just say, "Mr. and Mrs. Client. That's a really good question, and I don't actually know the answer." And here's the important part of the I don't know strategy, is saying afterwards, "But Mr. and Mrs Client, I absolutely know where to find out." So, if you'll just give me a day, 3 days, a week, 20 minutes, whatever it is you think you need to go get the answer, people will respect that. First, you try not to get yourself in that situation because you're trying to do the expertise matching model. But if you do, use the, I don't know...what did we call it, the I don't know theory? No. The I don't know practice.
Michael: Yeah, I don't know practice. But I...
Carl: There's that.
Michael: The important part that you highlighted there in that mini script of how you do the I don't know... Because I do feel like there is something even about the I don't know conversation that changes as your career build...as your career and confidence build, right? I look at this, my confidence and it's I...I couldn't say I don't know... I felt like I couldn't say I don't know for 25-year-old me. Because I'm fighting so hard for my credibility in the first place, and to look like I'm old enough to actually be a financial advisor, and legally buy alcohol, and all those things I was feeling then because I looked young. That was a big struggle to even be able to say that.
Now, if I'm doing something and I say, "I don't know" a bunch of people are, "We stumped the Kitces, that's awesome." Now, it's a game to people because I built my career and professionalism to a certain level where now it's fun to play "Stump the Kitces." But back then that was really...to me, that still would have been really hard for me. I liked how you phrased it, "I don't know but I know where I can go to get that answer for you. Give me a day and I'll come back to you." That I think I could have said because I know where I will go to find that out. It’s okay, I'm still claiming an expertise credibility moment back here.
Carl: Yeah, I don't know but I can get you an answer. I don't know but I know where to go to find out. And I just...
Michael: I don't know but I know where to... I don't know, but I'll get you an answer. It's, yeah, I don't know anything, but I work really hard. At least, for me...that didn't cut it for me because I didn't want to admit I didn't know things but...
Carl: But I know where to find out feels better.
Michael: I don't know but I know where to go. Just, I don't know, but I know where to go. I got that right back to what I know after all. Maybe that's just my own particular version of the neurosis around this, but that phrasing resonates with me quite strongly.
Carl: Well, I just wish we could embody that 23, 24, 25-year-old advisors to know that that is totally acceptable and is only going to continue. It's purely... Now, it's like your job actually isn't necessarily to know, your job is to be able to figure out. And so, your ability to say, "Hey, look, I'm in the middle of some uncertainty here, but I'm comfortable in the middle of uncertainty because I've done enough reps now to know that...I know how to sort out the uncertainty." That is where I come all the way back to Jerry, do the expertise matching model, and then pull the I don't know string and you should be fine. And maybe the person who's in charge of Jerry's...not in charge of Jerry's career, but the person mentoring or who hired Jerry can help be really careful. Let's try not to throw these folks in the deep end too early.
Why Practicing Conversations Leads To More Confidence In Client Conversations [21:55]
Michael: Yeah. The other thing I do want to come back to, on this theme though. So, again, I feel like there's 2 different versions of this. And I'm realizing now indirectly that...even as I was sharing some of the background on my end, that there's both of them here. So, there's one that is confident, confidence in our own competency. And we build towards that, or at least, for me, I can't do the fake it if you make it thing. I know some people can, and more power to you. But I couldn't do it, so I had to go make it first, and out came the alphabet soup. The second part is being able to manage yourself through those moments, so that even in including when a little bit of that anxiety or whatever it is wells up, that it doesn't have to dominate me and control me. Because, okay, I'm having one of those moments, and I know it passes and I know I'm going to get through it. And maybe I can even direct the nervous energy in a slightly constructive way. That's a version, at least for me, of what still happens when I go to speak.
And you said it earlier, Carl, the solve for that is practice. It's just flat-out practice. It's figuring out what you're going to say and then actually trying to say it, out loud with your vo... You could start it in your head because that's usually where most of us start scripting things. Practice saying it out loud. If you've got a significant other that wants to hang with you, role-play it with them. Role-play it with a friend, ask a colleague or a boss. Can we just go through and do this conversation and practice it? And I find, for a lot of people who maybe would benefit from the role-playing, that feels super awkward because role-playing feels awkward to some of us. To me, that's the point. If you think it's that awkward to role-play it, do it with a friendly colleague, or family member, or friend, or significant other, who it is. Okay, then do it in a safe space where you can practice it until it doesn't feel so awkward anymore, until it feels more okay to navigate it.
Again, I think of this from a little bit of my roots in the theater world. I know a lot of advisors don't like to practice things because if I practice it, it sounds rehearsed. And having lived in the theater world, if you're practicing it, it sounds rehearsed, that just means you haven't practiced it enough. Because the people who are the best at it, have done it so many...practiced so many times, and done so many rehearsals, they're on the other end of it sounds rehearsed to where it doesn't sound rehearsed anymore, it sounds natural, except they're actually doing the scripts that they've studied and done a bajillion times in rehearsals.
And that's why they can both do it so comfortably and even improvise and wing it if something awkward happens because they know the script so cold automatically that they're not in their head trying to remember, what's my next line? And what am I supposed to say next? And what else is going on? The script of what you plan to say becomes so natural that now you can actually spend most of your time and energy focusing on how am I in this moment? How is the client doing? How are they taking in this information? And that comes from practice.
So, I really would echo the...we don't give nearly enough credit for practice. Say it out loud, not just in your head. You can start within your head. Out loud with words in front of a mirror, in a camera and go back and watch yourself recorded. And you will be mortified because we are almost all horrible critics of ourselves, but that is the only way you learn. The athletes who get to do great tend to be the ones that are willing to go back and watch the tape of themselves, as bad as it is, because that's how you get better. Find places to role-play, find people to role-play with you, and just practice it.
Recognizing If A Non-Client-Facing Role Is A Better Fit [26:14]
Carl: Totally. And it does get better. And now let's make sure we talk about... So, I think that's an independent discussion. And then there's a separate question which is, even if you do do that practice, it may still be...you may be able to overcome the fear and you may be able to do it, but it may not be the thing that energizes you, even after all of that. Because I'm actually really good, at least I used to be, really good at spreadsheets, and I don't like doing it, right. But I was good. I got good at it, and I don't like doing it, so I quit. I think the same thing applies here.
And there might be another question to ask, which is just... And Dan Sullivan uses a term and he's trademarked it, so we got to give him credit, this unique ability term. The way I think of unique ability is the thing that gives me energy. It's energizing. It may still be hard, by the way. You can still have... Some of the stuff that I think of as my unique ability is still hard for me to do, it's still taxing. But it's when I do it, I'm, "That was great." I'm most likely to get in the zone there. So, the question would be, is Jerry better suited to do something else inside the business? I would be thinking of this as, both Jerry could be looking around going, I don't get a lot of energy from that, but I really love this, and be pitching that to senior advisor boss person. And boss person could be thinking, "Hmm. I wonder if there's a way for me to use Jerry's talents in a little bit different way."
Michael: Yeah. I do think that's a fair recognition that particularly as more advisory firms are growing and kind of scaling up, there are other roles emerging that don't involve clients, that don't involve client meetings. Maybe you're an internal paraplanner, maybe eventually you become a senior in advanced markets or expert internal resources team where you just nerd out on stuff all day long and then you handle questions that come in, but they're not your clients and they don't have to be. Maybe you actually like managing people, but not necessarily doing the client-facing thing, and you end up becoming a director of financial planning and building a department of people that do financial planning or get trained on financial planning. There are other...I think it's a good highlight, Carl, there are other roles out there with, I guess, the one asterisk I would know. It does take a certain size of firm to just realistically...to be able to afford the overhead of professional non-advisor financial planning roles beyond sort of a paraplanner support role, which is fine as you're getting going...
If Jerry wants a 5 to 10-year career arc on that, there are paths around that. Directors of financial planning, senior subject matter experts in a planning-centric firm. But the firm has to be a certain size, usually at least several hundred million dollars under management, several million dollars of revenue for a director planning kind of role, and often 10 to 20 plus million dollars of revenue. So, you're talking about a billion or more dollar AUM firm, to get senior subject matter expertise roles in the firm. So, there are not quite as many of those jobs, and they don't exist at all firms or even most firms mathematically. But I do think it's a good point, Carl. There are jobs out there like that. There are other career paths, and only more of them emerging as more advisory firms grow and scale up and create more varied jobs for financial planners in the workplace. And just as not every doctor meets patients directly, not every financial planner takes financial planning clients. That's okay. You can still be a successful financial planner doing other things. There are still successful medical doctors who do medical research and manage medical teams and train other doctors, and just don't happen to be in a role where they take on patients.
Carl: Yeah. I've even seen somebody who thought they really wanted to be a financial planner finding out they love digital marketing or they love operations, right? And you're, "Oh, that puts the firm much smaller in terms of size that where maybe I could do some of the back office paraplanning, and I could be the operations person."
Michael: Yes. Which a lot of firms do.
Carl: And I could be the marketing person, right? So, I would be open to the idea of, "Hey, we have found a lot of success at Behavior Gap HQ" and just thinking about, "Oh, we really like working with this person, let's find their unique spot." I think Jim Collins refers to that, get the right people on the bus. And it's okay if it turns out that that person doesn't want to drive anymore, they want to do something else. So, I think it's worth...I think both of those practice would give me a whole bunch of stuff there and then also maybe simultaneously be thinking, "Do I need to? Is that the right way to go?"
Michael: I love it. I love it. Well, thank you, Carl.
Carl: Cheers, Michael. Super fun.
Michael: Absolutely. Thank you.